A sad and revealing laugh

I recently saw an unusual news story that made me laugh.

There is a video on YouTube that shows a “Pastor” in Zimbabwe kissing one of the female members of his congregation.  On.the.lips.

Why, you ask? 

Apparently his kiss is able to remove a “demon from her body”.   The concept is so absurd I laughed.   This sarcastic thought ran through my mind,

“Nice logic there, Pastor.  You discover a demon in the attractive woman’s body that only your kiss can remove?  Very creative.”

In the video, the “Pastor” places his hands firmly on the woman’s face and gives her a prolonged kiss – directly on the lips.  After a few seconds, he suddenly pulls away – makes an exaggerated motion and spits on the ground, as if he still had some of the demonic residue in his mouth.  In his native tongue, he says a few words to the woman (with the rest of the congregation standing nearby) and once again, grabs her face and plants another long, intimate kiss on her lips.  The 50-second long video is weird, awkward and hard to watch.

Given the disparity of power (between Pastor and congregant), it’s hard to know if the woman is a willing participant or simply being an obedient churchgoer.  We do not know if she also thought she had a demon or if that was simply the Pastor’s “professional” opinion.  I’m pretty sure he alone came up with the unusual solution as his demon-removing remedy is found nowhere in Scripture.  Interestingly, no one in the congregation tries to stop this behavior even as many seem uncomfortable with the exercise – except of course, the Pastor.

Finding the whole story bizarre and amusing, I copied the link and posted it on my personal Facebook page with this commentary:

“I’m pretty sure this ‘Pastor’ is taking the

“greet one another with a holy kiss” verse

completely out of context.”

It was meant to be a joke.  For those who are unfamiliar with this Bible verse, I was referencing one of several passages in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, Romans 16:16, etc) where the Apostle Paul instructs the members of the Church to “greet each other with a holy kiss”.  (For the record, scholars debate as to what Paul meant by that phrase or what makes a kiss holy.  No reasonable biblical scholar believes, however, that it has anything to do with the exorcism of demons.)

Within minutes of posting, several male friends also found it entertaining as evidenced by their feedback.  It wasn’t until several comments later, accompanied by an anger emoji, that got my attention.  The writer, a female friend, was clearly not finding any piece of this story humorous.  To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that reaction and it made me suddenly aware that perhaps my perspective on this event was “off”.   

As the post sat there on my wall for all my friends to see… I had a growing, gnawing “check” in my spirit.  Something suddenly didn’t feel right about it.  It was meant to be funny… but was it?  I mean, the guys laughed but the other gender of my audience clearly felt an emotion other than laughter.  

I sent the link and my comment to an advocate for abused women, someone who has experienced abuse as a woman and now counsels dozens in the thick of it.  I was curious to see how she would interpret this story.  As I expected, she sized up the scenario with alarming precision and speed.  She wrote back,

“It’s literally a video of real sexual and spiritual abuse.”

It is?, I thought.   

Her words were jarring.  Did I really just post a video showing abuse?  I actually found THAT funny??  I started to wonder, is this an issue of an overly sensitive woman or completely desensitized men?

Then she asked me,

“Why do you want to post that?”

Good question.  Why did I want to post that?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about this video and my initial response to it.

As a man who has never experienced sexual assault or abuse, I only saw  the ridiculous claim that a kiss can exorcise a demon.  Somehow, I missed the part where another human being was being placed in an objectified position by someone who is supposed to pastor/protect her.   A woman was being abused in the name of God or church or faith or healing and my knee-jerk reaction was laughter.  

I started to realize that it’s possible (if not easy) for some of us to stare sexual or spiritual abuse in the face and not even recognize it for what it is.

We shrug it off.

We laugh it off. 

We excuse it off.

We dismiss it away. 

We deny it exists. 

We call it by a different name. 

We view it under the guise of being silly or cute or playful or harmless.

But it isn’t.

Pornography is another great example of this type of verbal gymnastics.  We call it “porn” but when you think about it – it is really the abuse of vulnerable women (or children), caught on tape, for the pleasure of men. 

What would happen if we started calling it by it’s evil, ugly, detailed description instead of by it’s less damning, abbreviated four letter word? 

As a full-fledged sinner with some major league sins under my belt, I understand the temptation to name the wrong we do in more palatable ways.   It’s easier to think we “borrowed” that which we actually stole.

It is not uncommon for me to receive a phone call from several male friends who ask for prayer or accountability because of their “struggle” or “thorn” or “lack of purity”. 

What if these prayer requests and admissions of guilt were more specific in their vernacular?

What if the phone call went something like this,

“Rod,

  • “I’m tempted to watch videos of really vulnerable women get abused sexually.”   OR
  • “I get turned on by watching naked men treat naked women with disdain and cruelty.”  OR
  • “I secretly enjoy watching videos of prostitution.”  OR
  • “I like to go into a dark room, pull my pants down and watch other men hurt and degrade women.  This experience brings me pleasure.”

It’s not easy to read those sentences (or write them!), let alone admit this vice might tempt you.  And yet, until we see abuse for what it is, we’ll never really address it.  And we can’t address anything unless we recognize it for what it is.  I mean, this is 12 step process 101.

Step 1: Admit you have a problem.

 

I have to do better in this area.  

We, as men, have to do better in this area.  

We have to see what’s going on, under our noses, in broad daylight.  We have to be willing to call out our friends, neighbors, co-workers, parents, relatives, Pastors or any other person perpetuating abusive situations, even those perpetuated by ignorance.  Our ladies need this from us.  The gospel requires this of us.  Our Christian witness is begging this from us.

Somehow I stared sexual and spiritual abuse in the face and laughed at it. 

If I missed this, what else am I not seeing?

May God open our eyes and allow us to see people (especially those on a video we will never meet) through His lens and grant us the courage to stand up and defend those who are vulnerable or defenseless.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

 

For the record, I took down the post from my Facebook page.

What’s her face?

A few years ago I was in a Lowes Hardware store with a friend, picking up some home improvement items. After 15 minutes in the store, we headed to the checkout lane and had a brief but fun conversation with the woman at the checkout counter. She was professional, efficient and clearly enjoying her job. If there was an evaluation form to fill out – she’d definitely receive high marks.

As I was leaving the store, I turned to my friend and made an impromptu bet with him. I told him I would give him every dollar I had in my pocket (over $20) if he could tell me the name of the woman who just spent the last 10 minutes with us.

“You mean the lady at the counter?”, he asked.

“Yep. Her. What was her name?”

“She didn’t tell us that”, he tried to explain away.

“It was on her name tag, in plain sight”, I quipped back.

He studied my face to see if I was serious about this bet.

I was.

Then, as expected, I realized my bet paid off. In spite of the time we just spent with another human being – he had no idea what her name was – even though it was clearly and prominently displayed on her shirt for all to see.

Determined to take my money, over the next few minutes on the ride back to my place, my friend racked his brain to remember her name – to see if his subconscious mind somehow picked it up. In desperation, he began throwing out every female name he could think of:

  • “Jenny?” Nope.
  • “Susan?” Nope.
  • “Jill? Erica? Emily? Rachel? Samantha? Gertrude?” Nope, nope, nope.

His countenance changed when he realized he was not going to be $20 richer that night.

How often do we do this? How often do we overlook the people closest to us who make it their career to serve us? Flight attendants? Hotel lobby employees? Custodians at work? Restaurant waiters? Uber drivers? Postal workers? Cashiers? If we pay attention, there is a world of people all around us – some of whom have names on a sign for us to see…. and somehow…

we

still

don’t

see

them.

Names are important to people.  Don’t believe me?  Call someone by the wrong name and watch their reaction.

 

Names are also important to God.

In Genesis 1, we are told that “God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.” 

Obviously, we know them as the Sun and Moon.  Immediately after this verse, almost as an afterthought, the writer of the book of Genesis throws out this side comment, “He made the stars as well.”  (verse 16)

By the way, He made the stars as well.

By the way, I discovered the cure for cancer.

By the way, I saved 15% on my car insurance last night.  I mean, verse 16 makes the creating of stars seem as trivial as a Geico commercial.

Our brightest scientists (conservatively) estimate there are over 100 million stars in our galaxy alone.  In the mid-90’s, the Hubble Deep Field estimated that there are over 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe.

That’s trillion with a T.

Galaxies with a G.

If all of those galaxies had the same number of stars as ours, that number comes to….

A LOT.

Like 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (24 zeroes)

Apparently new research shows that this estimate is at least 10 times too low.  And according to Christopher Conselice of the University of Nottingham, U.K., over 90 percent of the galaxies in the universe have yet to be studied.

Why do I take the time to point out the insane number of stars?

Because of Psalm 147:4.  If the sheer magnitude of the number of stars doesn’t blow you away, then Psalm 147:4 will:

“He (God) determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.”

God doesn’t identify them with a number (which actually makes more sense)… He has a personal name for each one of them.

Every.single.one.

With this as a backdrop, you can appreciate a bit of divine sarcasm when God takes Abraham outside (Genesis 15) in a subtle, double-dog-dare-you tone and says, “Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” 

While Abraham can’t even count them, God, the ultimate Show-Off, names them.

How?  Why?  Why bother?  I mean, why name something that will never be visited or inhabited, discovered, counted or known?

Because names are important to God.

In fact, God’s first assignment to the earth’s first man was to name the animals. (Genesis 2:19)

Throughout the course of human history, God has called His people by name:

“Moses, Moses” (Exodus 3:4)

“Samuel, Samuel” (I Samuel 3:4)

“Martha, Martha” (Luke 10:41)

“Saul, Saul” (Acts 9:4)

Names are important to God.  And no name is more important to Him than His Son’s which is why explicit instructions were given to Joseph about what that name would be:

“…an angel of the Lord appeared to (Joseph) in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Jesus.  The name literally means “God is salvation”.

When the prophet Isaiah predicted the birth of Christ (700 years beforehand) he wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  (Isaiah 7:14)

Immanuel literally translated means “God with us”.

Is the Bible contradicting itself? Did Isaiah get the prophecy wrong?  He predicted a virgin birth but messed up the name? Or did the angel not get the 700 year old memo?  Is His name Jesus or Immanuel?

It’s both.

In both names, God is communicating more than a name, but His heart’s mission:

“My Son is coming on a rescue mission to be with you.” 

As the Apostle John later penned, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

In order to save us, He had to be with us.  No wonder His name is above all names.

The next time you see a name tag, remember the name on it.

Because names are important to God, they need to be important to us.

 

 

 

Visitor Parking

I visited a new church this week.  After serving in three different churches as full-time staff and being intimately involved in the behind-the-scenes structure of church, I’m always fascinated to enter a new one as a nobody… an unknown figure walking the halls for the first time.

There are things you see, as a visitor, that the regular attenders just miss.  There are sights and sounds you pick up on that the pillars of the congregation no longer see or hear.  It’s not a slight on the faithful, it’s just how we are when we become comfortable with our surroundings and routines.

Having spent years as part of the inner workings of a church as one of it’s professional workers, I like showing up as a normal Christian… an unknown sojourner …a non-connected pilgrim.  In our “seeker-friendly” culture, I like to see how a particular body treats their visiting seekers.  How do they greet their strangers?  Will they give me a nice parking space up front?  Will any of the regular attenders go out of their way to meet or greet me?  Will anyone help me find a seat, or even better, offer to sit with me?  Who will come up to me during that awkward, built-in, 60-second, greet-someone-next-to-you segment of the service?  Will I get bum-rushed by the Greeting Committee or treated like the homeless at the street corner?  After the service, will someone encourage me to come back or even invite me to lunch?  Will I walk out as I came in; unknown, unconnected and without a friend?  I like people watching and can handle socially awkward situations so being a newbie at church is a fascinating experience in observing human behavior – even if it turns out that I’m completely ignored.

Trust me, it’s happened.  In church.  Too many times to count.

I have gone from the parking lot to the pew and back again without one single, meaningful contact from an entire congregation of believers. Multiple churches, multiple times.  Sit with that indictment for a minute.  When that happens, it makes me understand why countless masses just stay home on a Sunday and watch a service from their device or couch.  I mean, if you’re going to be alone anyway – why not do it from the comfort of your own home, in your pajamas eating favorite cereal?

As I approached this particular church on Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised.

  • This church had designated parking for visitors, clearly marked, right up front.  A nice gesture to welcome anyone new.
  • I received a few smiles as I walked to the front door and was greeted by a lovely elderly woman with white hair, a warm smile and cold hands.  Her professionally printed name tag made me realize she’s a front door fixture.
  • Being there a few minutes early, I intentionally sat closer to the front, found an empty row of chairs, sat down and waited.  The extrovert in me wanted to engage others, find out who they are, why they are there, how long they’ve attended, how much they tithe, etc.  But, I thought, why should I work so hard as a visitor?  Let’s see who comes to me since I’m the guest.
  • I noticed one man making his rounds throughout the spacious auditorium and greeting virtually everyone he could get to.  He was intentional in his movements.  Moments before the service began, he found his way to me and gave me a warm greeting.  I genuinely felt like he was really glad I was there.  In our celebrity-pastor culture where the keeper of sheeps generally don’t know their peeps – I could tell this was a true shepherd who both knew and loved his flock.  This church professional did his job – welcomed the stranger.
  • The service was warm and engaging.  The music, led by college students, was fantastic.  The lead vocalist, a woman, was clearly a gifted soprano which made it impossible for me to sing with since I’m not Freddy Mercury in a speedo.  A worshipful environment was created even if I just killed it with that visual.
  • The sermon was interesting, motivational and uplifting.  Speaking about the church’s four core values, the Pastor did a great job of explaining them clearly and even pointing out (to their embarrassment) who among the congregation exemplified those traits.  If there was any doubt before as to whether this man knew his people, that sermon eliminated it.  Days later, I can still tell you the 4 main points.
  • During the awkward, 60-second “greet the people around you” exercise, I was approached by seven different congregants who apparently needed that “permission” to greet the new guy.  It was nice to be acknowledged and welcomed, even if it was forc… er, encouraged from the pulpit.
  • With the service over, I did talk with a lovely couple, clearly a pillar of this church for years.  It was nice to make a genuine personal connection with someone before leaving the auditorium.
  • On my way to the car, I visited the restroom – a detail I would not normally reference to anyone for any reason.  As I walked in, I was immediately met with a site that I have never seen in my previous 13 years of full-time ministry.  So impressed, I took out my phone and snapped this picture:

This church, so committed to helping others, has installed shower stalls used on a weekly basis in their ministry to the area’s homeless. Wow. Feeding the homeless is one thing. Allowing them the dignity of a legitimate, warm shower is another.  Very impressive.  The shower cap was comfortable.

As I was leaving, I encountered a cookie soldier manning a table. It was the Girl Scouts, under a thin veneer of cuteness, trying to separate my money from my wallet.  My first thought was to overturn the table, in the Spirit of Angry Jesus, for selling in the church. (just kidding). Then I remembered a sermon from years ago that taught temptation comes in many forms and fashions and how it is usually tailored made to your weakness. It’s like the Girl Scout troop leader had targeted me specifically or something. How did she know this is my kryptonite?? The only reason I was able to avoid eating two sleeves of the devil’s cookies on my ride home is the fact that I did not have cash on me.

As I drove home, I pondered my experience.  I entered the building a complete stranger.  No one knew if I was new to town, invited by a friend or a hurting individual at the end of my rope. If people knew my reason for attending, would it have made a difference in who (or how many) approached me?  Should it matter?

For most people, they only visit a church one time – and if they don’t FEEL seen, welcomed, invited, loved or accepted – they won’t be back. There is no “three strikes and you’re out” with a church visitor. You generally have one shot at reaching them and they’re gone, forever. It’s hard enough for someone to enter a room full of strangers totally alone.  It’s even harder on a Sunday morning – entering a place where you know you are the “only” stranger. Surely, the visitors can’t be expected to be the initiator of introductions and conversation. It has to be the role of the regulars and every new person is hoping they understand that.

So, let me ask you, regular attender – church pillar – congregation fixture – professional church worker, how do you do in regards to reaching the visitors?  If you were to rate your church (or your personal performance), how many stars would you give yourself?  If someone enters your church, this Sunday, at the end of their rope – would your church (your sermon, your welcome, etc) be the reason they decided to carry on one more week?

In the last 10 years, I have been a visitor to a new church dozens of times.  Many Sundays I  have walked in hurting for a variety of reasons (divorce, early empty nester, loneliness, etc).  I can count on ONE hand the number of churches that have made me feel SEEN, loved or welcomed.  It’s not meant to be an indictment on churches… its meant to be a challenge to do better.

We live in hurting world.  I don’t know one person who isn’t hurting on SOME level.  And EVERY Sunday – one of them is walking over the threshold of your church door looking for a connection, a friend, a smile…. something.   Will they get it from you?

Here’s the harsh reality.

Visitors are going to park somewhere.

Will they park with you?

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:1-2

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another  — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

SUGGESTIONS FOR THE REGULAR ATTENDERS:

  1. As an individual (or even as a family) look out for anyone new and seek them out, even if it’s just to say hello and thank them for coming.  Make it your mission that no one new is able to get to their car without a simple, non-stalking hello.
  2. Invite someone to sit with you at church.  Just that simple gesture communicates “we don’t want you to be alone”.
  3. After you have met them, introduce them to someone else at the church before you move on.  In your brief conversation, if you learn that they have a job, hobby or interest that someone else in your church shares – find that person and make that connection before you leave them alone.  Get in the habit of “passing the visitor on” to someone else.
  4. Go up to them during the 60-seconds of awkwardness and welcome them.
  5. Have a gift card on hand ($5 Starbucks?) and give it to someone new.  A small $260 investment (52 weeks x $5) can deliver an amazing return, even if they never come back.
  6. Invite them over (or out) to lunch after the service.  This may require some planning on your part (especially if you are having them over) but what a great way to practice (and model) hospitality, especially to your children.  Obviously, you should treat.
  7. Introduce them to your Pastor (if feasible) or other staff member of your church.  Sometimes the church professionals are busy handling the duties of Sunday morning and they may not be able to meet the new people like they want.  If they have teenagers, get them in front of the youth pastor.  If they are a married couple, get them in front of the friendliest married couple in your church.  You get the idea.
  8. Make sure the visitor has some information in their hand about your church.  Flyer about bible studies you offer, a calendar of upcoming events, something for them to look at when they get home.
  9. If your church does not have a “free gift” for visitors, pray about spearheading that idea for your church.  Lots of low-cost ideas that can really bless a visitor.
  10. Give them your contact information (or ask for theirs if appropriate) and invite them to breakfast/lunch (your treat) in the following week.

Gently. Did we forget that part?

Almost monthly, I receive an email, text message or phone call from someone, somewhere dealing with the fallout of being “caught” in a sin. Sometimes it’s the guilty party reaching out to me personally. Other times it’s the ones who have done the catching. In all cases, trust is broken, lives are damaged, hearts are hurting and the person on the other end of the phone needs help or a healthy dose of hope, stat.

I used to be surprised by the caller’s admission or heartbreaking tale. Given my personal understanding of the human heart, our propensity for trouble, and the staggering number of poor choices in our current culture – nothing really shocks me anymore. What actually surprises me more than anything is how others treat those who have fallen, especially in the church.

Not the actual car, but that’s what it looked like.

Years ago, driving home late one night, I glanced at my rear view mirror and saw a plume of white smoke off the side of the road I had just passed.  I realized quickly that something must have happened in the 30 seconds since I drove by.  Curiosity got the best of me and I turned around to find myself as the first person on the scene of a really bad accident.  The car, driven by bikini-wearing college female, had gone off the side of the road and into a formidable tree. When I got to her, she was slumped over the steering wheel, moaning, badly injured.  Windshield glass was all over the front seat.  Music from her car radio was blaring.  Smoke was pouring out from under her crumpled hood.  It reminded me of a movie scene where you had mere seconds to get the person out of the vehicle before the car blew up.  The whole moment was surreal and moving in slow motion.  As I was trying to figure out what happened and how to help her, one smell was undeniable:

Alcohol.

She was driving drunk!  How dare she!

I stopped helping her and instinctively began to interrogate her:

“Were you drinking?”, I asked.

“How could you drink and drive!?  Don’t you know how dangerous this is?!  Or that it’s illegal??”

She said nothing, just moaned.

I continued, “I hope you are happy with yourself. You could have killed someone! Or yourself!  Or me!”

She ignored my litany of anger.

“You do realize you are going to jail, right?”

No response.   Just more silence.

I would tell you the rest of our conversation except I can’t.  It never happened.

Don’t get me wrong, the crash was real.

So was the girl, her bikini, the smoking car and her injuries.

But the conversation never happened.

How could it?  She wasn’t in any condition to talk and I wasn’t sure if she had suffered life threatening injuries.  My primary concern was to get her safely out of the car in case it blew up.  (It didn’t)

I have thought about that crash and that girl several times over the last 30 years and wondered what happened to her.  I trust she recovered and learned whatever lessons she needed to from that experience.

But her crash reminded me of another crash I heard about last week, when another reckless driver drove his life off the side of the road.  He wasn’t in a physical car, just a metaphorical one. Instead of hitting a tree, he hit the reality of losing his marriage. Alcohol wasn’t his downfall, an affair was. The injuries he sustained were not physical – just emotional and mental and spiritual and social and financial and…threatening life as he knew it.  His marital car is about to blow.

Two car wrecks.  Two wrecked lives.  Two different causes of their consequences.

If you were to ask the girl if she received help or support immediately following her wreck, she would tell you yes.  Lots of it.  After I arrived, three more cars stopped to help me.  Followed by a couple of police officers, a firetruck and one ambulance.  By the time I left the scene, after 1:00 am, she was in good hands and stable.

I asked the man how his church has responded to his wrecked life. His answer, though disappointing, was not surprising.  Very few have reached out to him.  His wife was triaged and has received a ton of support (as she should!)… but as for him, he’s been largely left to help himself out of the mangled mess.

There seems to be a big difference in how we treat those with physical injuries versus those who suffer from moral ones.  When someone is physically injured, we run to their aid instantly, even if they were drunk driving. We don’t hold back assistance or support, even if their injuries were self-inflicted.  Why?

If you’ve ever committed major league sins around minor league sinners, you know what I’m talking about.  The following seems to get hurled your direction, post-haste:

  • Judgment.
  • Condemnation.
  • Shame.
  • Guilt.
  • Ostracizing.
  • Excommunication.
  • Shunning.
  • Gossip.
  • Silence.

Why?  Why do we run to help someone who falls physically but seemingly walk (or crawl) to help the one who fell morally?  Do we value our skin over our soul?  Our physical well-being over our emotional one?

 

The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue when writing to the church in Galatia.  He addresses his letter to fellow believers and gives them explicit instructions on how to deal with someone who has driven their moral chariot off the road:

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2-3)

What is your response when you see a stranger suffer a physical injury?

What is your response when you see a friend suffer a moral one?

Listen, the truth is – sometimes we drive our perfectly good vehicles off the road and into trees? Why?

Because we are “caught” in a sin.

That night, the girl drank too much beer.  Another man might look at too much porn.  The homeless Vet abuses too much heroin.  The embezzler takes too much money.  The glutton eats too much food.  I’m not justifying their behavior or condoning their choices as much as I’m saying – these people need our help and support, just as much as those who have sustained a physical injury.

If we are willing to rush towards a physically injured stranger and offer assistance without judgment, why can’t we do the same for someone injured morally in our church?

 

Paul is reminding his church, those who live by the Spirit… that they need to do four things:

  1. Restore that person.
  2. Restore them gently.
  3. Watch themselves in the process.
  4. Carry each other’s burdens.

Did you see his reason why?  Because doing THOSE four things “fulfills the law of Christ”.

The next time you hear of someone who has driven their moral car into a tree,

Call them.

Visit them.

Hug them.

Restore them.

 

And do it gently…..

 

And watch yourself in the process because your car could crash there too.

8 proven ways to slow your healing process, post-divorce

Two years ago I agreed to co-lead a “small group” Bible study for my church focused on ministering to those who are separated or divorced. Our first meeting had close to 20 in attendance. Within 8 weeks, 45 were on our roster and I had to “close” the group to new members. So much for a small group.

Since my own divorce in 2010, I have watched this relational epidemic sweep not just the nation but the church.  More and more people (regardless of age, socio-economic background or color) are entering this pool at an alarming rate with no signs of it slowing down.  With sadness I watch these vulnerable brothers and sisters in Christ make some very costly mistakes (post-divorce), some of which I made myself early on.

With eight years of divorce behind me and as many years helping countless others through the painful process, I have seen the following mistakes repeated, with devastating consequences. If you are going through a divorce or have been through one recently follow these eight steps if you’d like to remain as unhealthy and hurting as possible.

1) Avoid counseling. Do not get help from an educated professional. Do not share your pain with someone qualified to help you. Do not take any advice from someone highly trained in the area of relationships and conflict resolution.  How can unpacking years of dysfunction help you understand the many dynamics that got you to where you are today?  Just because they have years of experience in this area and can share nuggets of wisdom with you, so what?  You owe it to yourself to remain as miserable and unhealthy as possible.

2) Pick up a vice. You haven’t smoked in 10 years? You should start again. Drinking large amounts of alcohol to numb your pain is totally acceptable and could not possibly lead you into poor choices. Also, you should gamble. What faster way is there than to take the precious little you have and make it even less?  Bottom line, drown your pain into something that will absolutely guarantee you to feel worse and ensure you will avoid personal growth at all costs.

3) Date as many people as fast as you can.  Statistics show that you will have your best chance of finding true love while you are emotionally unavailable and relationally devastated. Two people who are at the lowest seasons of their life and carrying massive baggage from their previous relationships is the key ingredient to happiness.  Be sure to find someone else who is also following these steps as well.  I mean, you don’t want to be unequally yoked, right?  To achieve bliss even faster, marry them soon after meeting them.

4) Tell your kids everything you know about your divorce. Since kids are just mini-adults, they deserve to know all the things you know, especially about their other parent. Forget the fact that their little souls can barely handle the weight of the pain, sharing all your juicy adult stories is the best way to help them grow up the fastest.  Read them your divorce decree before they go to sleep at night.   Show them all the text messages and emails you receive from your ex-spouse.  Sharing all your divorce details with them is helping them learn the truth, not at all revealing your ignorant selfishness and insecurity.

5) Do not register for a DivorceCare.org group in your area.  Why would you want to meet with other people who could support you during this difficult season?  What good could come out of a 13-week study where you hear from divorce and relationship experts?  Making new friends who will encourage you during this difficult season is one of the worst things you could do. The best course of action is to be alone, with your thoughts, and not invest 2 hours per week trying to improve your situation.

6) As you struggle with the worst pain of your life, do not read any books that will help you cope or give you strength and encouragement, especially the Bible.  Do not read the Psalms.  Do not read any of the New Testament.  Do not go to websites like this one (www.divorceresourceusa.com) for resources to help you.  Do not try to learn from the dozens of people who have gone before you. Instead, spend countless hours alone watching Netflix movies as that is obviously the best way to help you through this season.

7) Do not exercise.  In spite of the years of studies and scientific proof that exercise improves your mood, attitude, and body – don’t do it.   Stay at home.  Sit on the couch.  Eat the whole bag of Doritos. Stress reducing activities like exercise are overrated. Why improve your heart and do something that is proven to make you feel better about yourself and outlook on life?  Just because the Center for Disease Control mentions 8 reasons why physical exercise is beneficial for you, who cares?  What do they really know anyway?

8) Do not help others.  Looking after “number one” is in your best interest.  Obviously, you are too broken right now to serve others.  What could you possibly offer someone during this season of your life?  Just because love, attention and time are free doesn’t mean you have any left to give. Trying to ease someone else’s burden will only keep you from feeling your pain longer.  Giving your time or attention to someone else in need will only cause you to lose your focus on your misery.  You have been given a victim card and you should play it as long as possible.

 

My friends, follow these eight steps religiously and I promise, you will still be in the same miserable position a year from now (or longer) than you are today!  Divorce is one of the hardest, most painful experiences one can go through and you owe it to yourself to try not to recover from it too soon.   

My Salvage Title

I’ve been helping a friend find a new car and the exercise has been mildly frustrating.  After narrowing the search to a particular make and model, we’ve been on a mission to find something under budget.   It seems that just when we find a car under budget, we discover it comes with really high mileage.  When we find a vehicle well under the desired mileage it seems to inevitably lack certain “essential” features she really wanted – luxuries like wheels, doors, etc.   We’ve been searching online for weeks and the perfect car continues to elude us.

Until today.

On the outside, it looked showroom worthy.  On the inside, the pictures looked immaculate.   Not only did it come under both budget and mileage (with wheels and doors!) but it also included a lot of extras she really desired; sunroof, leather seats, backup camera, power everything and even seat warmers.   I called the dealership to find out more details about this gem and why it seemed too good to be true.

Alex (the salesman) is very positive about this car.   Even though it’s been on his lot for months, he assures me it’s a very good deal and car.   It is not lost on me that I’m speaking with a salesman.   Though I’m certainly impressed with the pictures and overall stats, I want to learn more.   I ask a few more probing questions and receive all the answers I want to hear.   Seldom is heard a discouraging word when speaking with a used car salesman.   I thanked him for his time and hung up.

I’ll admit, it does sound good. It’s under budget.  It’s under the mileage limit she was comfortable purchasing.   It certainly has all the bells and whistles that she wants.   She’s been without a decent car for so long that I know she’d be thrilled to finally have something newer and more reliable.   I mean, it even has seat warmers.   It must be God’s will.

But something seems off.    It feels too good to be true.   I don’t know this specific car or its previous owners and I certainly don’t know Alex or anything about his business or level of integrity.   Though he admitted going to church, I have come to realize that doesn’t always mean that will ensure a trust-worthy transaction.  Sadly, not all “Christians” are as honest as their Christ, especially when they have a “shekel” to gain in the process.

I decided to get on the phone and contact a good friend who is in the automotive industry, at the service department of a large dealership.   If anyone knows cars, it’s Tim.  I run the specs by him and he asks for the VIN # of the car we are looking at.   With this number, Tim is able to instantly look up the history of the vehicle and find out exactly what’s been reported on it over the last few years.  After a few minutes, Tim revealed why the car was priced so cheaply;

It has a salvage title.

A salvage title is given when that vehicle has been significantly damaged and/or deemed a total loss by an insurance company that paid a claim on it.  In other words, it is declared “salvage” when the insurer determines that the repair or replacement cost is in excess of approximately 70% of its market value at the time of the accident.

Though we were disappointed to learn this information, we were grateful we took the time to ask someone in-the-know about the car’s invisibly sordid past. Somehow Alex failed to mention the car’s accident history.   Shocking.

I’ve been pondering this revelation all day today.   I’ve come to realize that in some ways, we are very much like the cars I’ve been looking at.  We come in all shapes and sizes and varying makes and models.   Some look more appealing on the outside.   Others have an amazing interior.   Some even have both.   However, all of us – regardless of our age – have a history.   All of us, in some way, have some mileage in our past.

The truth is if you have parents, have been through middle school or college, have been married, divorced or have children – you come with some extra mileage that is hard to hide or ignore.   You might still look good on the outside, but your accident report has some pages in it.  Many of my readers have been in “accidents” where their vehicles have been severely damaged.   Speaking personally, I’ve experienced too many “wrecks” to count.  On top of the normal “fender benders,” I’ve received a plethora of moral dents from reckless driving, have been totaled in a divorce and show a lot of “wear and tear” that comes with high mileage on rough terrain.   Simply put, if I was a car – I would have a salvage title too.  Regrettably, I have caused significant damage and have been deemed (by some) a total loss.

I’ve thought about the car a lot today and how I relate to its depressing predicament.   I know what it’s like to experience a life-changing crash and the time and cost it takes to rebuild and look towards a future use.   A new hood, a new engine, a new paint job are all part of the fix, but in the end – I still have a salvage title, a pointer to a past I just can’t change or ignore.

Here’s the painful reality for those who relate to my position.  There are some “car buyers” that won’t look our direction.  There are “insurance carriers” who will deem us a total loss, in spite of our improved changes.   There are “drivers” who would not feel safe taking a ride in our car.   There will always be a tire-kicker who will point to our salvage title and use that as an excuse to keep us on the lot.  And like it or not, they have the freedom to make that choice.

If anyone knew what it was like to be a demolished car in the queue for the trash compactor, it was the thief on the cross.  To say he had destroyed his car was an understatement.  If anyone had a salvage title, it was him.   His rap sheet had more dents than a demolition derby car.   Not only had he traveled too many miles, he was simply out of gas.  A human court deemed his life a total loss.  His wrecked life was about to be traded in at the Dealership and within a few hours, life as he knew it was over.  I could drag on the illustration further, but you get the point.  If you know the story (Luke 23), you know his salvage title was replaced with a clean one.  The Dealer graciously took his broken Prius and offered him Paradise instead.   The jalopy got Jesus.  (Ok, I’ll stop)

And likewise, our moral salvage title has been replaced with a clean one, in Christ.

As hard as that is to accept some days, I take refuge in the fact that my God loves restoring old vehicles.  He’s a God who delights in the redemption process and sees value in the cars that others consider too damaged or with too many miles.

If you find yourself struggling with the condition of your vehicle or title status, be encouraged.  There is a Master Mechanic who can not only fix the pieces that have been wrecked but can replace your current title with His and allow you to still travel to places of grace.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has gone.  The new has come.” (I Corinthians 5:17)

I. remain. available.

You have to live under a rock or be completely off the grid to not hear the news of the latest sexual scandal that is rocking the core of Hollywood’s elite.  One of Hollywood’s biggest names is having to answer for multiple skeletons coming out of his closet at an alarming rate, from rape to unwanted sexual advances and every accusation in-between.  This story is dominating the headlines and overshadowing international news – no small feat with the current circus-like administration.  Given the man’s high profile nature, we should expect to find more and more women who will finally come forward and tell their tale.

Sexual misconduct and scandal are not uncommon news stories among the celebrity culture we live in.  Every few months we learn of a politician, athlete, musician or actor who finds themselves at the epicenter of immoral controversy.  Sadly, the sinful details don’t surprise me anymore.  Every human heart is capable of every evil deed.   I know (first-hand) what it’s like to live a double life and shock your inner circle.

While Harvey’s sins have been described as “egregious” and “disgusting” what struck me today was not the depravity of the deeds but the response of his friend.

Another Hollywood mogul and long-time friend (Jeffrey Katzenberg) wrote the following in an email to his friend, now made public:

“You have done terrible things to a number of women over a period of years.

I cannot in any way say this is OK with me…It’s not at all, and I am sickened by it, angry with you and incredibly disappointed in you.

There appear to be two Harvey Weinsteins…one that I have known well, appreciated and admired and another that I have not known at all.

As someone who has been a friend of yours for 30 years, I’m available to give you advice on how to at least try to make amends, if possible address those that you’ve wronged, and just possibly find a path to heal and redeem yourself. Having watched your reactions, seen the actions you have taken and read your statement, I will tell you, in my opinion, you have gone about this all wrong and you are continuing to make a horrible set of circumstances even worse.

I doubt this is what you want to hear from me and most likely you aren’t interested in my advice but this is the way I see it.  I remain available.”   – JK

****************************

I can sympathize with the accused.  As a man who once held a high profile position of sorts, I have had to come to terms with the countless demons from my past while in the fishbowl of public scrutiny.  Though our sins are quite different, the ash-heap he currently sits in is the same.  More and more people are distancing themselves from Harvey as they don’t want their name (or brand) associated with Hollywood’s latest leper.  I remember all too well the mass exodus of relationships that I experienced when my sins were made public many years ago.  It’s a special type of rejection.   It’s an acute emotional pain – even if we “deserve it.”

I understand Mr. Katzenberg’s reaction.  He’s naturally “sickened,” “angry” and “disappointed.”  He’s coming to grips with the reality that there was a Harvey he never knew, a shocking revelation from someone he spent 30 years “knowing.”

It’s easy to be disgusted by someone’s behavior, especially if those behaviors are truly foreign to your own temptations.  It’s easy to pick up a stone of judgment and throw it at the accused, especially when everyone would agree he deserves the social pummeling.   It’s easy to “write off” a relationship – especially when that relationship was – at its core – deceptive.  In fact, it’d be easier to just quietly walk away justifying that he’s a “lost cause.”  Why write an email or spend more time in this fallen friendship when Mr. Katzenberg undoubtedly has hundreds of other friends who are more palatable to love?

I think that is what struck me about Mr. Katzenberg’s email.  He chose not to do any of the easy choices before him.  While he rightfully condemns Harvey’s actions, he doesn’t change his phone number.  He hates Harvey’s sin but does not hate Harvey the sinner.  He doesn’t distance himself from leprosy.  He doesn’t try to protect his brand.  Going against the powerful public flow, he drops the rock of judgment, offers to sit down in the ash-heap and communicates the 3 most important words that every Harvey longs to hear:

I. remain. available.

 

Even now.

Prior to these painful revelations, the world was available to Harvey.

  • He had a good reputation.
  • He had respect.
  • He had power.
  • He had prestige.
  • He had money.
  • He had connections.
  • He had clout.

He had everything that everyone (Hollywood or not) wanted to have.  Weeks later, he’s virtually lost it all.  There is simply no room for such luxuries on an ash-heap.  Celebrities cannot distance themselves fast enough. Politicians who gladly accepted his enormous campaign donations suddenly find themselves unwilling to lend him a moral penny in his greatest hour of need.  History has shown humans to be fickle like that.  One week we can shout “Hosanna in the highest” and the next week, “Crucify Him.”  Without a doubt, Harvey can count on one hand the number of friends who “remain available,” especially publicly.

Contrast this news story with the other dominating news story this week; the raging fires in California.   The devastation is surreal and hard to watch.   Dozens are dead, hundreds have lost homes and thousands are now displaced with little idea of what to do next.   As I watch the fires burn, I hear the emerging stories of the first responders, the brave souls who are going in when others are going out.  While the masses are running from, these heroes are running to.   Why?   Why would someone risk so much to save a total stranger?   Money?  Fame?  Prestige?  What motivates a first responder to commit such acts of bravery – especially with nothing to personally gain?   I think there is only one answer:

Because the ones in danger are worth saving.

At this point, few probably think that Harvey is worth saving.  Like the fire, his deeds have caused enormous damage and have left a trail of destruction for those he burned.  Harvey himself may wonder if the “path to healing and redemption” are possible, let alone worth it.

This is why Katzenberg’s email is not only remarkable but necessary to highlight.   He’s running to his friend while everyone else is running from.  It doesn’t minimize the victim’s plight or the weight of Harvey’s actions.  It doesn’t ignore the fact that there are very real consequences (professionally, socially and legally) that may need to be faced.  But it shows us something that few understand the importance of – especially in the midst of public failure; healing and redemption are necessary pursuits.

Because Harvey has money?   No.  Because he makes good films?   No.

Simply because Harvey has value even when his actions are worthless.

The ignorant tend to put people into two categories; good and bad.   If someone does an action I like, they are good.  If someone does an action that hurts me, they are bad.  We are much too complicated to be labeled like that.  The problem is that all of us, according to the Bible, have done bad and fallen short of the Heavenly standard (Romans 3).  While some sins cause greater damage and deliver greater consequences – all sins place us on common ground – in the soiled ash-heap.  G.K. Chesterton summarizes the human condition best, “There is but an inch of difference between a cushioned chamber and a padded cell.”

The truth is, wounded people wound people and we are all wounded.  We tend to hurt others in the areas where we lack healing and no amount of money, fame or accomplishment changes that.  I’m not justifying Harvey’s actions, merely explaining them.  Unless we find healing, we will continue to hurt others.  And sometimes we need help finding healing.

While the masses are distancing themselves from Harvey, Katzenberg offers proximity, healing, help, and hope.

His three-word response should challenge all of us the next time we discover the moral leper in our midst:

I remain available.

Do you?

 

  • “If anyone is caught in a sin, who you are spiritual, should restore him gently.” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

 

 

A word about your worth

rod artersThe other day, during my travels, I had to visit a restroom in a run-down gas station.  Public bathroom visits are never a preferred option but gas station bathrooms, for most sane human beings, are to be avoided at all costs.  Sadly, it was either visit this glorified outhouse on my long road trip or wet my pants.  I actually thought about the latter option.

The men’s room in a gas station is consistently nasty.  Whereas I have heard that female restrooms are colorful, fragrant epicenters of happiness – the men’s room is where all things nasty go to die.   Chipped paint on the walls, graffiti i messages on the doors, cracked mirrors, leaky faucets and trash littering the floor are commonplace sightings.  What can you expect from an understaffed, underpaid place where men who can’t aim go to dump their waste?   Upon entering the bathroom and walking over the paper towel trash pile inevitably left on the floor, every man instinctly looks for the open urinal or stall.   Whereas women like to travel to a restroom en masse, men prefer it to be a solo experience.

On this particular day, there was only one stall available between two oversized men.   Ugh.  I reluctantly saddled over to the lone urinal, annoyed that I cannot take care of business with more privacy and realized immediately why this stall was ominiously “available.”   At the bottom of this urinal, seemingly strategically placed in this odd place, was a picture of Abraham Lincoln.   After all, his picture, familiar to us all, is the image on every five dollar bill.

In most men’s rooms – there is a shortage of things to look at while you are… making the bladder gladder.   But when you are in there with other men, it is imperative that you are very careful not to let your eyes wander East or West.  This particular day, my gaze was fixed upon Lincoln.   I wondered who had put a $5 bill in the urinal.  Was this some sort of reality show prank and I was unwittingly their next contestant?  I wondered if it was a crime to “Number One” on Honest Abe in this fashion.  I wondered how long it had been there and why no one had rescued it from its cruel fate.   Actually, I didn’t wonder about that one too long.

A plethora of thoughts filled my head about the unfortunate bill.   (Clearly I drank too much that afternoon.)   I considered its unfavorable position.  I pondered its unfriendly treatment.  I wondered where it had been prior to this.  I wondered what things it was able to do in the past.   When it came off the press at the Mint, it had a bright future.  Certainly this isn’t what the makers of the money had in mind for this particular piece of currency?

As I reflected the deeper meaning behind this bill’s fate, a prominent thought came to mind:

There are many days when I relate to this bill.

Stuck.

Misplaced.

Mistreated.

Undervalued.

Unfulfilled.

Used.

Abused.

Not fulfilling the purpose for which I was created.

Do you relate?   If you’re honest, you probably have felt this way too, especially if you have spent time at the bottom of life’s urinal.

Noah had to relate to this feeling when he was called by God to build an ark prior to the impending flood. The only problem is that no one had ever seen an ark or flood before.   God failed to mention it would take him over 100 years to build.   I can only imagine the ridicule he faced for a century on this “project from God.”  (Genesis 6)

Joseph had to relate.   After experiencing lofty dreams about his bright future, he finds himself languishing in an Egyptian prison for two years – with no forseeable hope of getting out.  (Genesis 37-40)

David had to relate.   Annointed to be the next King of Israel (I Samuel 16), he spent the next 20 years of his life as a fugitive waiting for the day that the annointed would finally be appointed.

Paul had to relate.   Called by God in spectacular fashion (Acts 9), he eventually finds himself incarcerated for his newfound faith and pastoring several churches while in chains.

Hosea had to relate.   Called by God to marry a prostitute, he spends his entire marriage to someone trying to love them in spite of wayward unfaithfulness.  If anyone felt “stuck” in a relationship, it had to be him.

The list of biblical characters that seemingly felt mistreated, used, forgotten, is endless.

Over the last few years I have really struggled with my sense of worth.   When you commit major league sins in the midst of minor league sinners (church folk), it can mess with your perception of worth. Whereas I used to be Christianity’s darling because I could write, speak and spin all the necessary spiritual plates, I have found myself on the other end of respect, stuck like a piece of gum on the bottom of self-righteous religious shoes.   The people I used to lead don’t follow.  The ones that used to take notes have stopped listening.

Here’s the thing that $5 dollar bill taught me that day.   It’s a profound truth, if you stop long enough to absorb it.

It’s still worth $5 dollars.

It’s not worth less because it’s at the bottom of a urinal.

It’s not worth less because of it’s level of abuse or misuse.

It’s not worth less because no one wants to touch it anymore.

It’s still, all day long, worth $5 dollars, simply because it has intrinsic value.

Intrinsic.

Look that word up in the dictionary.

(adjective)   in·trin·sic, belonging naturally; essential, innate, inborn, comes from within, built-in, inherent. 

In other words, it means belonging to a thing by its very nature.

Dogs are intrinsically loyal.   Cats are intrinsically independent.   God is intrinsically loving.

Sometimes I forget this truth, imbedded into the D.N.A. of every human being, myself included.

There is no crime that can remove my intrinsic value.   There is no sin that can erase one’s essential worth.

Not.one.   So, dear reader, be encouraged.

Where do you find yourself in today’s moral climate?   Do you feel, because of your past, at the bottom of life’s urinal?   Do you feel, because of past sins, like a piece of moral gum on the bottom of judgemental shoes?    Do others make you feel like you’re a modern day social leper?    You’re actually in good company.

Jesus’ company.

As the Son of God and the Author of Life, He could have entered our planet on a cosmic meteor with the thunderous announcement of Angels.  Instead, He came through an unplanned, scandalous pregnancy – born into a stable, largely unnoticed by the planet He created.   He could have entered among the Papacy or prestigious.  Instead, He chose an audience of paupers.

As a sovereign God, He could have demanded worship from every living creature He encountered. Instead, He walked among us in the flesh, choosing limitations and mistreatment, instead of the royal red carpet only He deserves.

And where did He spend His time?   Who captured His attention more than anyone else?

The sinners.    The societal rejects.    The spiritually sick.

  • Tax collectors.
  • Gentiles.
  • Prostitutes.
  • The physically disabled.
  • Women.
  • The demoniacs.
  • Children.
  • Roman soldiers.
  • Lepers.

Yesterday, I was walking in a parking lot and stepped over a penny.   I stopped for a minute, aware of this blog, and wondered…

“How many penny’s have I walked over in my life simply because it did not hold enough value in my mind to reach down and bring it into my world?”

Too many.

How many people have I stepped over because I was too important to stop?

Too many.

The next time you see money in a place where it shouldn’t be, do what you can to rescue it from it’s place of unuse and let it remind you that God has plans for those whom the world rejects.

They hold intrinsic value – not because of what they can do for us – but simply because they exist.

I know I need that reminder.

And God came to earth to give it to me, even me.

Lessons from a suicidal cat

Earlier this week, I saw a kitten dart onto a very busy, heavily trafficked street.  I knew immediately that this was not going to end well.  (You have been warned.)

It’s commonly held that cats have nine lives.  I was convinced I was going to see one of hers vanish right before my eyes.  In fact, I was shocked the cat did not meet an instant, painful death.  Somehow, it barely avoided being struck by a truck and found its way underneath – momentarily safe.

The wind of the moving truck must have knocked it off balance and she began rolling end over end.   With the truck driving on and other traffic fast approaching, the feline was clearly off-balance and disoriented. As she got back on all fours – she darted one direction and then suddenly the other.   She moved with the erratic grace of a schizophrenic squirrel.  Clearly recognizing her life-threatening environment, she sprinted to the curb narrowly missing other vehicles and instinctively leaped over the nearby guard rail – presumably for safety.

lessons from a suicidal catAfter watching a heart wrenching eight seconds of Frogger, I was excited to see the little gal make it to safety.  Then, my heart dropped.   I realized the guard rail she leaped over was…

…on a bridge that led to a busy highway some fifty feet below.  #thiscatonlyhadonelife

I’ve had a few days to process this disturbing scene and came away with some thoughts that apply to our human experience:

Sometimes we make really poor decisions because we are lost, scared and unaware of their consequences.

As I look back at my life at some of the poor decisions I have made, the worst moments were often made when I was emotionally or spiritually scrambling.  Like the kitten, I was standing in the middle of oncoming relational traffic and simply trying to survive.   I moved right or left – not because they were the best places to go but simply because it avoided me getting run over from the particular truck I was facing at the moment.  In such a chaotic state, ones thinking is clouded and it’s almost impossible to know the impact of your decisions – especially on those who love and depend on you.  This cat was stuck in a physically lethal rut.  Many times, we find ourselves in emotional ones.

I’m not sure what enticed the cat to run into oncoming traffic.  Maybe it was a blind mouse?  Perhaps it was spooked by something else and that seemed like the best decision in the moment?   Sometimes it takes situations like these for clarity to kick in.  From that point on, this kitten found herself in over her head and doing her best to survive.  She wanted help but had no idea where to get it.   Can you relate?

You’ve seen this scenario before, maybe not with cats but people;

  • The homeless man begging for food.
  • The divorced Mom looking for love in all the wrong places.
  • The young professional who escapes to porn.
  • The alcoholic step-Dad with an anger issue.
  • The teenage girl who cuts herself.
  • The church leader who drinks more than he prays.

Regardless of age or gender, we see hurting people all the time just trying to survive their particular pain and their choice of survival seems counter-productive, if not self-destructive. Relationships and trust are damaged in these dangerous environments.

As I have surveyed the landscape of hurting people, I have noticed two things to be true.

One, we tend to judge those who sin differently than us.   It’s easy to condemn pornography when you struggle with gluttony.   It’s effortless to throw a moral stone at an adulterer when your darling sin is cursing.   As long as you find a vice in another that makes your vice look less menacing, you perpetuate a wrong attitude toward those who are just as sinful as you, just struggling with a different sin.

Last week, I was sitting in my buddy’s truck at a red light.  A few seconds later we heard a horrible crash outside my passenger window and saw three cars next to ours involved in a pile up at the light.  Instantly, I jumped out of his vehicle and ran over to the cars involved, two of which had their airbags deployed and clearly had drivers in need of medical attention. As I attended the scene as the first person on site, I didn’t ask who was responsible.  I didn’t try to figure out fault. That needed to come later from someone more qualified than myself.  My job was simply to help the hurting.

This brings me to my second point:

We seem to have more compassion for those in a physical mess and less sympathy for those in a moral one.  We naturally want to help a cute kitten in traffic.  They deserve to be rescued.  As for the home wreckers, they simply need to be hung.   When someone is in a car accident, we suspend judgment and rush to offer sympathies and aid.   We don’t find out who was responsible for the wreck and determine their treatment based on that.  But when the “wreck” is entirely moral or relational in nature, we will often let the instigator rot in their emotional collision.  Why is that?  Why are we quick to help those in physical pain but gossip, slander and withhold our assistance from those writhing in moral pain?

To be clear, I’m not trying to defend the decisions of those who make poor moral choices.  I’m merely suggesting that those of us who have fallen morally have done so because we were lost, scared, and in our own pain and unaware of the inevitable consequences – as obvious as they may be.  Perhaps it is because we cannot understand their sin therefore it’s easier to judge it?

And this leads me to the second lesson of the fallen cat:

Oftentimes, all we need is someone (on the outside) willing to help us find our way home.

The cat, almost immediately, needed help.   She knew she was in trouble.  She knew she needed assistance.  If only she had someone on the outside in a position to help her, she would still be with us today.   Most anyone would “jump in” to help a struggling kitten but we are less likely to offer the same enthusiasm to help a stranger in need, especially if their need is self-inflicted.  We are even more reluctant to help someone who sins egregiously because they “deserve whatever comes to them.”   Instead of realizing “there but by the grace of God go I” – we quickly climb our shaky moral ladder to the ivory tower of pride and throw as many stones as we can at those who desperately need support.

How does a homeless man get a second chance?  How do people recover from an addiction?  How does a divorced person rebound from a broken family?   How does someone who’s been evicted find housing again?   Usually only with help.   Like the cat on the street, they aren’t going to make it without some assistance.

You know what I didn’t see that day?   A bunch of other cats on the curb condemning their feline counterpart.   The kitten’s parents weren’t there meowing their disapproval at the cat’s poor decision.  The cat’s neighbors, siblings or “friends” were not there hissing at the cat’s predicament.  Apparently only we do that.   Had the cat family been there to witness it, they would have done anything they could to save the life of their feline.   And once she was safe, on the curb, they would have licked her wounds and nurtured her back to health.

Sadly, we rarely do that.   We like to give lectures.  We like to point out the mistakes.  We enjoy making others feel bad for the wrong decisions they make.   We revel in the “I told you so” moments – especially when our advice is revealed as wise.   But is that what is really needed?   Can a lecture bring healing like a hug can?   Does pointing out the mistakes create the “aha” moment, or do “aha” moments more frequently come with grace?

Years ago, I had a close friend who confessed to me, in a moment of transparency – a moral failure he had experienced with his (at the time) girlfriend.   As a fellow Christian and youth worker, I was shocked that he had fallen into such sin.  I couldn’t believe he didn’t keep a higher sexual standard.  I was disappointed in his lack of self control and repeated nature of the offense and let him know so.  I tried to be compassionate but truthfully, it felt manufactured.  In case he didn’t feel bad enough for his mistake, I felt the moral obligation to let him know my disappointment.  Looking back, I felt it was my duty to express moral outrage and God’s displeasure.  I handled it all wrong.

Fast forward 20 years.   I was now the one in the position to confess.  I needed to come clean about the double life I had been living, while in the ministry, and share my sins with this dear brother in the faith.  I fully deserved a verbal lashing.  I was completely expecting him to throw the first stone at me.  In fact, to save time – he could have just used the one I hit him with some two decades earlier.  I braced myself for judgment, however, it never came.  Instead, of feeling the guilitine, I felt grace.  Instead of condemnation, he offered compassion.  I can’t even begin to tell you how healing that was for me.  It didn’t excuse my behavior.  He didn’t condone my actions.  It didn’t remove any consequences.  But he did something that day that lectures and sermons and ostracization just can’t do:

Bring healing.

He rolled up his sleeves and tried to help, as someone who truly understood the temptation and struggle. In doing so, he helped me come home.

Is there anything better than that?   The prodigal son didn’t think so (Luke 15).   After years of poor decisions and reckless choices, he came back to the only place that ever truly loved him:

Home.

And what was waiting for him?

  • A lecture?    Nope.
  • A cold shoulder?   Nope.
  • Harsh treatment?   Nope.
  • A long list of things he had to do to get back in good standing?   Nope.

He was greeted with a hug.  And given clean clothes and a huge party and a second chance.

Who does that?

Someone who understands what it’s like to be in the middle of rush hour traffic without a prayer.

For those of you out there who relate to the cat, this message is for you:

Come home.

 

It’s time.

 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lordthe Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;  the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” – Psalm 121

 

A father’s warning against adultery

For thousands of years, parents have been giving their children advice at all different times for all different reasons and on all different topics:andrew and me walking

  • “Eat your vegetables”
  • “Sit still”
  • “Take a bath”
  • “Go to sleep”
  • “Say thank you”
  • “Clean your room”
  • “Be kind”

If we are honest, most of the time that advice is unwanted and unsolicited – which is why we so desperately need it.  No kid ever runs with scissors thinking, “I wish I had a ‘grownup’ to tell me if this is a good idea.”   No child ponders the many benefits of bathing.

Instead, as the Scriptures teach, “foolishness is bound up within the heart of a child.” (Proverbs 22:15)  This makes sense.  Since a small child has never touched a hot stove before, how can they possibly know the pain that is about to scream in their small fingers?   Children don’t know what they don’t know.  This is one of the primary reasons why we need parents in our lives to help guide us along the way.  Parents have often been where children are heading.  Our scars come from a painful past.  Even if we haven’t touched the proverbial stove ourselves, we’ve been tempted and our ancient perspective allows us the ability to forsee the pitfalls a child simply cannot see.  As parents, we KNOW what happens when you don’t “eat your vegetables” or “go to sleep.”   Though there are other authorities in our life that can certainly help guide us (relatives, pastors, teachers, police, etc), none are quite as motivated like that of a parent.

A casual reader of my blog can see that I have a sordid past.   I have tripped and fallen while running with moral scissors.  I have not always colored within the lines.  I have touched more stoves than I can count.  Some discredit me because of it and deem me a poor teacher.  From my perspective, my sins were the tuition to the most expensive school in the land, EU – Experience University.   To be honest, I hold honorary degrees I wish I never earned.  But as a highly educated fool, I have a responsibility to share what I know with others, especially my own children.

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, adultery is once again front page material.  With the recent hack of the Ashley Madison website and the continued exposure of the names of those who were members, infidelity is wreaking havoc on the lives of millions of families.

Given the sad state of relational affairs (pun intended), I thought it was time to post a heartfelt letter about the topic – from a father’s perspective to his son.   All parental advice should be listened to simply because of that unique relationship.  But some parental advice is so packed with street cred that only a foolish child would choose to ignore it.   This letter, penned to a beloved son, is that such letter.

It is no secret that this particular father had numerous illicit relationships.  Because of this, he can offer an extremely unique perspective.  More than most, he understands the temptation and deception of the human heart and more than anything – wants his children to avoid his path.  If you don’t have a father who shared such wisdom with you, consider this wisdom as coming directly from him. (Though this letter is written from a father to his son, it obviously applies to daughters as well.)

And to my two boys, if you read this one day, please listen.  It is truth purchased at an incredibly painful price.

“Dear son,

(1-2) Please listen to what I’m about to share with you.   I beg that you stop what you are doing and really hear me.   These next few minutes can keep you from a world of hurt.

(3-6) In time, you will encounter an adulterous woman and her lying lips will seem like a sweet candy to your ears.  Her candy will give you a lifetime of cavities.  Her speech, though flattering, is deceptive.  Her words will cut you like a knife.  She walks down a street of destruction and following her will lead you straight to the grave.   She is lost and she will lead you into the land of the lost.

(7) Please listen to me and do not ignore this letter. Keep it somewhere safe and refer to it often, especially when you’re married.

(8-14) Do not go near this woman.  Stay as far away from her and her house as you can.  Don’t even drive by her neighborhood, lest you fall prey to the deceiving thoughts of your strength.   Taking her hand will bring a mere moment of pleasure and a lifetime of irreversible regret.  You will lose everything you have worked hard for. 

Every.Thing. 

Trust me on this.  I don’t want you living with regrets that you can never change.  I don’t want you haunted with the voices that will scream, “Why did I not listen to my Dad’s words?  Why did I ignore his instruction?  How did I get in this position – even as a Christian?” 

(15-20) Son, would you eat food found in the dumpster?  Would you quench your thirst with water from a street puddle?  Of course not!  Eat food from your own plate and drink water from your own trusted bottle.  Don’t open your heart and body to a total stranger.  Blessing is found in the context of marriage.  Concentrate all your energies on your wife.  Discover the treasure of that relationship. May her body alone satisfy you always.  Get drunk with her love.  Why get intoxicated with another man’ wife?  Why get entangled with a woman of poor character?

(21) Don’t be deceived, you will get caught.  And even if you escape the notice of men, everything you do is in plain view of God’s sight.  Every night He is keenly aware of the bed you lie in.

(22) Being with an adulterous woman is like willingly walking into jail.  You will lose precious freedoms. 

(23) This decision can cost you your marriage, family, career, reputation, friendships and income and if you choose this, you will be led astray by complete and utter foolishness.

Love,

Dad

(This above letter was originally written by King Solomon to his son as recorded in Proverbs 5.  Obviously, the passage above was paraphrased and placed in modern context – particularly for my boys.)